Because of GPS devices, drivers nowadays are used to being instructed to “turn right in 500 yards” or — for those a little more navigationally challenged — “make a legal U-turn when possible.” Beverage distributors are equipped with these advantages as well, but the latest telematics solutions offer some added perks to help drive efficiency, safety and more.

In the past, telematics generally limited distributors to seeing “dots on a map” denoting where their trucks were, notes Ray Zujus, business development director of food and beverage with Telogis, Aliso Viejo, Calif.

“It’s now transforming into how customers do business,” he says. “You give them insight and visibility into how their businesses are really brought up by the four walls and bring back actual information that allows them to tweak their processes or adjust the way they do things to make more important decisions for the future. It’s not just dots on a map; it’s collecting the information and putting it into a form that can be analyzed or can be actionable to, for instance, make a better route to get a merchandiser on schedule at a new store closer to the time a delivery is going to made.”

In addition to analyzing route efficiency, telematics providers note that their solutions also can aid in fuel, labor, maintenance and repair savings; improved customer service; increased productivity; enhanced safety and security; and improved communications, among other benefits. In fact, Thomas Ness, vice president of enterprise sales with Teletrac, Garden Grove, Calif., says that its Fleet Director software has the ability to reduce fuel consumption by as much as 30 percent, reduce labor by up to 30 minutes a day per vehicle, and increase productivity by 12 percent, according to a recent Teletrac customer survey. It provides “much more than location management,” he adds.

And now, with the explosion of craft beer and other beverage SKUs, telematics software is becoming even more essential, notes Telogis’ Zujus. Retailers are trying to minimize the amount of product stored in their back rooms, which forces distributors to deliver smaller orders more frequently, in some cases, he explains. As a result, he says distributors are experiencing increased costs and labor, and telematics solutions have the ability to help mitigate these challenges.

“The first step in being able to take waste out is being able to see where it is, and without the technology out there, those trucks are driving around all day and they don’t really know what’s going on,” Zujus says. “So being able to see where I’m driving extra miles, or where my trucks are idling, or where my drivers are waiting, things like that, gives them the ability to start zeroing in on that stuff and saving some money.”

Saving even 1 gallon of fuel a day for each truck can add up very quickly, especially for a large fleet, he notes. Fleetmatics recently released a report called FleetBeat, which found that if every business using telematics had the same results as Fleetmatics' customers, it would result in a total fuel cost savings of approximately $2.1 billion, says Todd Ewing, director of product marketing for the Waltham, Mass.-based company. That equates to more than 573 million gallons of fuel, he adds.

Reaping the rewards

Drivers can help save fuel by managing their braking, acceleration, speed and idling habits, telematics providers note. Additionally, tracking driving behaviors as well as vehicle data, like diagnostic trouble codes, can help improve operations and significantly reduce costs, says Chris Ransom, director of sales engineering for Verizon Networkfleet, San Diego. Verizon Networkfleet offers 24/7 visibility into these assets, he notes. It also offers complimentary Emergency Roadside Assistance, which is rare in the industry, he adds.

The company’s most popular telematics solution is its Networkfleet 5500, which offers reliable GPS tracking and the capability to connect directly to a vehicle’s diagnostic port to continually monitor engine status, Ransom says. Patented remote diagnostics on this solution enable monitoring of diagnostic trouble codes, ignition status, speed, odometer, fuel efficiency and more, he adds.

In accordance with society’s instantaneous demands, most fleet management occurs in real time and has the ability to provide instant notifications or alerts as needed, solutions providers note. Ryder Group’s RydeSmart telematics system, for instance, allows customers to schedule reports and alerts to be sent automatically in real time, says Mike Dennis, director of field maintenance for the Miami-based company. He adds that customers are seeking ease of use in compiling and manipulating information, which its RydeSmart system can handle.

“Today’s customers are asking for greater flexibility in manipulating the data, as well as the ability to integrate different platforms,” Dennis says. “Customers are going beyond the [miles per gallon] data and are looking to be able to integrate data from all sources into one interface for easy usability and reporting.”

Paragon Software Systems Inc. offers Paragon Fleet Controller software that can be linked to a telematics solution in order to optimize routing and scheduling, says Will Salter, chief executive officer and president of the Frisco, Texas-based company. He notes that Paragon is experiencing a “definite increase” in the number of customers interested in linking Paragon Fleet Controller with a telematics solution. The resulting collaboration offers real-time visibility of fleets, early warning of possible delivery delays for route revision and customer notification, the ability to build routes based on actual delivery data, and planned versus actual reports for schedule re-optimization, he says. It also allows both the driver and the transport controller back at the office to see the data, he notes.

Likewise, Telogis’ latest Fleet 11 software platform enables connectivity between employees in the field and the back office. One of its newest features is that it supports Telogis Live 2.0, a location- and data-sharing tool that compiles partners’ and contractors’ workers and assets on one screen so that project information can be shared among multiple users to maximize productivity and operational efficiencies, the company says.

Tech-savvy tracking

Additionally, telematics solutions are becoming more integrated with tablets and smartphones for location tracking, job dispatch and vehicle diagnostics data, notes Verizon Networkfleet’s Ransom. Telogis’ new Fleet 11 software is integrated with Telogis Coach, a mobile app that gives drivers and employees in the back office the same view of a driver behavior scorecard.

Teletrac offers its Fleet Director GPS tracking software in app form for Apple tablets and iPhones, and it recently released its Teletrac Drive app for Android devices.

“Teletrac Drive is a new app suite for Android that provides vehicle operators with powerful and intuitive usability features including navigation, messaging, electronic driver logs (e-logs) and driver vehicle inspection reports (DVIRs),” Ness says. The app enables vehicle operators to digitize their e-log and DVIR capabilities as well as streamline the process of entering, recording, completing and storing Department of Transportation (DOT)-mandated information for logbooks, he explains.

Telogis’ WorkPlan app also offers these benefits; however, Zujus adds that its app’s navigation can be configured to offer the driver very specific directions to take him or her to a pinpointed location.

“Our navigation can be configured to take the driver to a specific entrance point in a customer’s parking lot, for instance,” he explains. “[It tells them to] go behind the store this way, watch out for the low overhang, [etc.]; all those things that can be tailored specifically to whatever those customers’ needs are.”

Mobile apps also have the ability to enhance communication, connecting drivers, merchandisers and the back office so that everyone knows what everybody else is doing, Zujus notes.

Hosting telematics software in the cloud is another technological advancement that aids beverage distribution, he adds.

“Being in the cloud makes us scalable, which is [a] big requirement,” Zujus says. “As some of the smaller companies are being bought out by larger companies, they want solutions that are scalable; they want to be able to see their whole operation in one screen, and there’s a lot of folks out there that can’t do that.”

 Ryder’s Dennis adds that consolidation within the beer industry, in particular, could require some multi-state deliveries, which would bring even more added value for using telematics in the future.  

Whether large or small, beverage companies can benefit from telematics solutions, Fleetmatics' Ewing says.

"Small and mid-sized beverage distributors may question the relevance of telematics due to their business size, but they should know that this technology is key to driving better business results, whether it’s for a fleet of five vehicles or hundreds," he says. "More businesses are beginning to recognize the technology’s tremendous value in providing business intelligence and are becoming savvier with how they utilize it."